Curious About the World: Travel Grants Honor Paul Nyhus

Story posted April 06, 2006

A fund to provide travel grants for students studying history honors the late Paul L. Nyhus, Frank Andrew Munsey Professor of History Emeritus and former dean of the College. The Paul L. Nyhus Travel Grants—established by former honors and independent study advisees of Nyhus—will support expenses for travel, either domestically or abroad, related to original student research that uses archival or other primary source material for an independent study or honors project. By covering such expenses, the grants honor Nyhus’s dedication to students’ educational endeavors, his efforts to promote students’ intellectual development through the critical study of primary documents, and his commitment to students of lesser means. They also honor his concern for students’ well being past graduation.

“He was genuinely interested in the lives of his students,” says Stephen Kusmierczak ’89, who initiated the effort for and made the first contribution to establish these grants honoring his teacher and friend. “He knew their hometowns, their backgrounds, and remembered their achievements at the College—‘Oh, so and so, he was from Winslow and was a fine blocker with a great interest in Hapsburg Europe. His dad worked in the mill.’

“Professor Nyhus taught my first history course at Bowdoin, an introductory class in medieval Europe. He made extensive use of primary texts to provide students with an understanding of the cultural, economic, and religious forces shaping European history. These critical readings provided insights into why and how events happened, much like working through the algebra to understand economics or calculus.”

These grants “will enable history majors, intent on pursuing independent work with a faculty advisor, to travel to collections and locate primary source materials for their research,” said Allen Wells, Roger Howell Jr. Professor of History and history department chair. “I know that Paul was especially pleased about these grants because he always stressed the importance of incorporating foreign language materials, where appropriate, into student research.”

Paul Nyhus joined the Bowdoin faculty in 1966. A specialist in late medieval and early modern history, he chaired the history department for many years and was named Frank Andrew Munsey Professor of History in 1990. He became known as Dean Nyhus to a generation of Bowdoinites, having served as both dean of students and dean of the College.

“He always had ample time for me and his other students,” remembers Kusmierczak. “While I was writing my honors thesis, he often walked over to his Hubbard Hall office late in the evening to discuss interesting points in the Middle German texts. We kept in touch after Bowdoin. He was always interested in impressions of what I’d seen and what I was doing in my work in Europe. He was curious about the world. I know that he kept in touch with many other students and remained a friend and counselor after our Bowdoin experiences.”

Professor Nyhus retired in 2004, following a 38-year tenure as a beloved teacher of history, respected scholar and inspirational leader. The Bowdoin Board of Trustees named him Frank Andrew Munsey Professor of History Emeritus last spring, shortly before he was diagnosed with brain cancer, to which he succumbed in August.

“Hopefully, [the grants] will carry his name and love of learning to younger students,” says Kusmierczak. “Professor Nyhus was a great scholar and mentor who truly exemplified the ideals of the College.”

Questions and correspondence regarding contributions to the Paul L. Nyhus Fund may be addressed to: Scott A. Meiklejohn, President’s Office, Bowdoin College, 5700 College Station, Brunswick, ME 04011, 207-725-3460, smeiklej@bowdoin.edu.

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